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In the most recent issue of the BMAA magazine, there are new aircraft listed that are still Microlights, but have complex features. These include Autopilot(!), retractable landing gears and even variable pitch props.

If one was to look at purchasing such an aircraft, how do ratings work and which body endorses them in the UK (if you hold an NPPL only)? Do you need separate training for each complexity, i.e. a retractable landing gear course, or is there one that covers them all for Microlight pilots?

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking specifically for flying on a UK NPPL, or more generally? $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Jul 17, 2023 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Jamiec good point, have edited the question :) $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Jul 18, 2023 at 10:03

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It appears that the British Microlight Aircraft Association is who you should refer to. They have a document on Differences Training. Details of all differences training can be found therein, but some of your specific questions pulled out...

Autopilot is mandatory:

Before exercising the privileges of the rating, the holder must complete appropriate differences training, if the aeroplane is fitted with Autopilot System and the holder does not have training or experience in aeroplanes with such fitted features. The differences training mentioned above must be given by a flight instructor entitled to instruct on the aeroplane on which the training is being given, recorded in the holder’s personal flying logbook and endorsed and signed by the instructor conducting the training.

Retractable u/c is "advised" (Egad! This is the one you don't want to get wrong!):

Although not specified in the August 2021 ANO update as requiring differences training by law, landing with the undercarriage retracted is one of the most common accidents in complex light aircraft. Light aircraft training typically includes a “gear down” check as standard in circuit and before landing checks. All precautions should be taken to avoid this sort of accident; several broken aircraft each year demonstrate the importance of this training.

Variable pitch prop is mandatory:

Before exercising the privileges of the rating, the holder must complete appropriate differences training, if the aeroplane is fitted with a variable pitch propeller
and the holder does not have training or experience in aeroplanes with such fitted features. The differences training mentioned above must be given by a flight instructor entitled to instruct on the aeroplane on which the training is being given, recorded in the holder’s personal flying logbook and endorsed and signed by the instructor conducting the training.

Comment: For clarification, a variable pitch propellor (VPP) is one whose angle of attack can be adjusted in flight. Many microlights have ground adjustable propellors whose angle of attack can only be adjusted on the ground; these are not included within this differences training requirement. Mishandling of a VPP will likely lead to engine damage with the safety risk that it brings and to extremely expensive repair bills. The differences training will consist of ground training to understand the workings of such devices and flight training to practice the practical use of such systems, failure modes and emergency procedures.

Is there one "course" which covers all differences you might be interested in is probably a general "no", however if you have access to such an aircraft which has all the features you're interested in and an instructor/examiner qualified to carry out such differences training I'm pretty sure they would do them all in one go. Not a microlight, but that's how I added retractable & complex (basically: Constant Speed Prop) endorsements to my SEP rating on my PPL.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Jamie! Autopilot sounds so fun! $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Jul 21, 2023 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Cloud Not so much fun, hand flying is fun. What an autopilot does is removes a huge amount of workload in the cruise allowing you more headspace for other things. Mine is currently inop, and while I miss it on a long straight cruise, it's much more fun actually flying the plane. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Jul 21, 2023 at 13:16

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